Title: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Movie directed by Rupert Wyatt; screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver; starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Frieda Pinto, and John Lithgow
How did I get this movie: Review Copy from ThinkJam/Fox Home Entertainment
Inspired by the original films and Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La planète des singes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released on DVD this week. A reboot of the franchise (intended to the be the first film in a new series of Planet of the Apes movies), Rise also serves as a cool prequel and an explanation for how things devolved from our current world, to the Ape-overrun realm of Charlton Heston’s time. Like many of my fellow dedicated scifi lovin’ film goers, I was both excited by this prequel/reboot, but also acutely aware of the fact that the film could be terrible.
Luckily, the film wasn’t terrible. It was freaking awesome.
Franco as Dr. Will Rodman breaks a cardinal rule of mad scientist etiquette
The story follows an ambitious young scientist, Will Rodman who is tirelessly working towards creating a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. His research at Gen-Sys (red flag numero uno, you never work for a company with a mysterious “Gen-” appended to the name), which would enable damaged neurons to regenerate, shows great promise; already Will has seen incredible success in his animal trials, especially with a hyperintelligent trial chimp he has renamed “Bright Eyes” (for the bright green pigmentation of her eyes after receiving the drug). When Bright Eyes loses it and goes on a violent rampage in Gen-Sys headquarters just as Will is giving his presentation to the board of investors, his entire project is shut down and all of the test chimps are put down. Only when the scientists get to Bright Eyes’ cell do they realize the reason for her violence – the chimp had secretly given birth, and was protecting what she perceived of as a threat to her child. Unable to kill him, Will takes the baby chimpanzee home – where the chimp is welcomed by Will’s father, Charles, who names the little ape Caesar.
Aaaaand it is here that it all goes to hell, because it is now that we learn the source of Will’s passion for Alzheimer’s research – it turns out that Charles (played by the always wonderful John Lithgow) is in the advanced stages of the disease. Will can’t give up on his father, and having smuggled home the last of his working serum, he commences human trials and injects Charles.
For a while, the gamble pays off – Charles’ condition improves dramatically, overnight. Will finds himself a hot new mama in the form of veterinarian Caroline (played by the gorgeous Freida Pinto). And young Caesar, who has inherited his mother’s hyperintelligence, grows in a family unit that loves him. But as the years pass and Caesar grows to maturity, the question becomes clear. Is Caesar loved as a pet? Or viewed as an equal?
A young Caesar wistfully watches as humans play outside
When the medication stops working on Charles and he begins to rapidly regress, Caesar breaks the cardinal rule of the house, running out to defend his family, Charles, from an angry neighbor. Unfortunately, the neighbor is kind of a dick and demands that Caesar be put down – and unable to be hidden any longer, Caesar is taken away to the San Bruno Primate Sanctuary.
It is here that Caesar learns about the other side of human nature; here, that Caesar develops his own identity, separate from that of his human family; here, that Caesar finds his voice (literally) and fights for the future of his kind.
Oh sweet movie making deity, is Return of the Planet of the Apes awesome. Not only does it provide a meaningful framework for the events of The Planet of the Apes, it also creates a believable and sympathetic journey for its true protagonist – who, contrary to billing order, is not James Franco. Rise is unequivocally Caesar’s story.
Clearly, the film relies on a certain amount of genre tropism. For starters, a scientist should never. EVER. experiment on animals when researching Alzheimer’s Disease. There’s a list of things one should NEVER DO as a mad scientist, which include the following (as enumerated in a review of Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson):1
- Test your promising new invention on yourself or a loved one [including your sweet cure-for-everything-super-serum and matter-rearranging-teleportation device];
- Presume to revive an extinct life form/dead person [including dinosaurs and deceased loved ones];
- Create Artificial Intelligence [this is self explanatory];
- Test any of your Alzheimer’s cures on animals. Especially not on already super-intelligent ones [See: Deep Blue Sea].
But while the premise of the movie is predictable and firmly grounded in genre tropes, the film is so damn clever about everything else – including Planet of the Apes easter eggs and seeding for future films, I might add.2 By far, the greatest success of the movie lies in the decision not to demonize the Apes, but instead to make them the heart and soul of the film.3
Andy Serkis is amazing.
Andy Serkis, who you might know as the motion actor behind some of our most incredible CG’d heroes and villains over the past decade from Gollum/Smeagol of the Lord of the Rings films, to Peter Jackson’s eponymous King Kong, does some of his best work to date with his portrayal of Caesar. Mind you, unlike The Planet of the Apes and all subsequent films, the apes in Rise do not speak – which means Caesar’s story is related to us entirely through body language and facial expression. And good GOD, man, Andy Serkis needs not only an Oscar for all of his amazing work – the man needs an award invented and named after him. With Caesar, Serkis’s performance is vulnerable, heartbreaking, and utterly, ferociously empowered. While James Franco is a wooden marionette of a character in this film and the humans – except for Lithgow who is brilliant as always – are so effectively dehumanized, it is the apes for whom we cheer.
If Serkis is so successful, a significant part of that success must be attributed to the movie’s stunning, wonderful visual cues. Everything is so damn well thought out and executed beautifully in Rise – from the flecks of green in the hyperintelligent Apes’ eyes, to the smudged dirt detail on the walls of Will’s home, where Caesar has used the wall as a foothold. And let’s not forget that awesomely badass fight scene, in which the apes charge across the Golden Gate bridge to find sanctuary in the redwood trees of the Muir woods beyond.
The movie is fantastic. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for?! Go forth. Watch it. Have a Holiday Planet of the Apes marathon. I’ll join you.
Additional Thoughts: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the extras that come with the blu-ray! My favorites are the deleted scenes which include a veritable treasure chest of deleted scenes.
Also, this is just me geeking out, but check out the Interactive Trailer with little tidbits and filmmaking extras. I love this stuff.
Rating: 8 Badass Ape Bananas – and in the running for my favorite movie of the year.
- As I’ve said before, this list, of course, is not exhaustive. There are many other DON’Ts that the savvy mad scientist should keep in mind, such as avoiding genetic experimentation on animals/humans (especially not animal-human hybrids, ala Doctor Moreau), or mess with anything to do with antimatter or quantum mechanics in general. ↩
- I should also say that until the last minute of the film, I was a little pissed because until a pivotal, deceptively throwaway scene, it seemed like the movie glossed over mankind’s demise. It doesn’t. Mankind dies of its own hubris. I like it. ↩
- On that note, can I just say how oddly, wonderfully fitting it is that Draco Malfoy got to say the iconic line, completely turning the context of the original film on its head?! AMAZING! ↩